The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 158: Autumn Gear 08

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Now, our gear reviews depend entirely on you. Here's how you can help. This week on The WildeBeat; Autumn Gear oh eight.

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News from the WildeBeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one-fifty-eight.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Since the beginning of the WildeBeat, we've featured gear reviews provided by the all-volunteer group Backpack Gear Test. I knew when I created the show that a program about wilderness recreation wouldn't be complete without discussions about gear, and I knew that Backpack Gear Test was one of the most unbiased places one could get reviews of outdoor equipment.

STEVE: So in our edition number three I presented an interview with Jerry Goller. Jerry is the founder and publisher of Backpack Gear Test dot ORG, which is usually abbreviated as BGT. I asked Jerry if I could interview BGT's volunteer testers on a occasional basis. For the past three years, I've contacted authors of recent BGT reviews, and interviewed them for our gear segments on the WildeBeat. That process provided us with some interesting and popular editions of our show, but it still put us, at the WildeBeat, in a position of hands-on control of the review content. And that got in the way of our goal to provide truly independent and impartial gear reviews, free from our personal biases or sponsorship influence.

STEVE: So on August 27th of this year, we announced a new relationship with BGT. This new relationship put them in more direct control of the reviews we present. Here's Jerry Goller.

JERRY GOLLER: We keep the complete editorial control over what's produced. The nice people over at WildeBeat do an excellent job of editing what we say to the point of making us sound better than we actually do, but not modifying our content in any. We still have the same independence we've always had, but it's just another avenue for us to disseminate the information.

STEVE: What is it about your model that you think makes your gear reviews more trustworthy than some for-profit media outlet?

JERRY GOLLER: I think the thing that probably inspires the most confidence in what we do is the fact that we do not accept advertising, we do not charge manufacturers to review their gear, we do not charge people for reader reviews. There's absolutely no money whatsoever involved in Backpack Gear Test. I kind of teasingly tell the manufacturers the two most important things we bring to the table are ignorance and indifference, but it's true; we just want to learn about the gear and we don't care how these reviews turn out. The reviews have to be polite. I never understood why people trash gear -- that doesn't really accomplish anything for anyone. We prefer the model of constructive criticism.

JERRY GOLLER: The object of the game, and the thing that we get out of this is better gear. That's the whole point of Backpack Gear Test, to get better gear. As long as manufacturers truly believe that that's your goal, that you're trying to help them improve their product, you can tell them an awful lot in real honesty about their equipment, and they'll smile and go along with you 'cause they know that you're truly interested in improving their product, that it is constructive criticism. Since people know that that's our only goal, they know that there's no money involved, there's no way to influence a Backpack Gear Test review. We just don't care.

JERRY GOLLER: If a manufacturer reacts negatively to some of our reviews and elects not to test with us anymore, then, you know, they just don't test with us anymore. From almost the start, we have always had significantly more gear to test than we can ever conceivably get tested. We're very serious about what we do. We may be amateurs, but we take this very seriously and we expect them to do the same.

STEVE: So our new process works like this. First, the BGT testers go through their established gear review process.

JERRY GOLLER: The progress of report starts with the application. Everybody has to apply for a piece of gear. We don't people testing gear they don't want, and might assume that in backpack gear testers is some kind of gear lotto. Just tons of gear doesn't suddenly appear at your door because you joined Backpack Gear Test; it doesn't work that way; and everybody uses a basic outline of what they're going to do with the gear and how they're going to use it to demonstrate they actually know what this item is. Once they receive the item, they give a detailed description in their initial review as to what the item is. I explain to them that you're the eyes and fingers and ears and nose and everything else of the readers; you just stepped into an outfitter and you're describing the gear for 'em.

JERRY GOLLER: You want to comment on the workmanship, you want to comment on the sizing if it's an issue, you want to comment on instructions -- could you understand them -- so forth and so on, just a first impression. That review is uploaded to our site, it's edited in a peer review. Two months later the field review is you've taken it out in the field, you've used it for awhile, it's basically a field first impression. What do you think of its function in the field, how well did it perform? And it's just a narrative, it's just what happened to you, how you used it, and how it performed. That is also publicly edited. Then it is added as an addendum to the original report. Then we have the long-term review. Long term, of course, is a relative thing. Some of this gear is calendar sensitive, it's only produced one year. So, we have to get sufficient information from people to make a buying decision before the season is over. So, it goes through precisely the same process as the other two reviews and added as the final section of the report.

STEVE: Once a written test is complete, a group of moderators identify the most thorough and well-written reviews. They suggest to those testers that they provide an audio version of their review as well. We sent the reviewers a list of standard questions. So they call our comment line just as you could, and leave their gear reviews with us. They come out like this.

STEVE: Richard Lyon is from Dallas, Texas. As in all Backpack Gear Test reviews, he starts out by telling us a little about his experience.

RICHARD LYON: I am a long time backpacker, lightening up a little bit each year. I do just about every kind of backpacking, although my favorite is a base camp trip; three days to a week with one hike in and then day hikes from the place where we set up camp; and most of my true backpacking, more than just overnight trips, takes place in the Northern Rockies of the United States.

STEVE: Richard reviewed a pair of sunglasses by Ryders Eyewear.

RICHARD LYON: The Ryders Intersects are a new model this year from Ryders Eyewear of Canada. They have a curved frame that fits extremely well on my rather large face, well enough that I didn't have to wear crokies with the glasses at any time. The model sent to me for testing by the manufacturer included three sets of lenses. The one I used the most for bright sunlight grey/blue revo, but also orange for low-lighted dusk, and clear; and I was able to use the clear ones when skiing in a whiteout to replace my goggles. I have tested these, really, on a daily basis here in Dallas driving to work, and walking my dogs, and going to the dog park, and any time I was outside in bright sun, which it usually is in Texas in summer, and also on three camping trips in the Northern Rockies. I wanted to see if this truly was a pair of interchangable sunglasses that was easy to change both at home and in the field; and I was very pleased to find that they were.

RICHARD LYON: These can be changed very quickly by simply snapping the lens out, preferably holding the lens by the edge so you don't smear the front of the lens; and then putting those in a separate case that comes with these glasses, and replacing them with the lenses, then, of choice. During my testing I found these to be wuite easy to change -- I got a little better at it during the four months -- and I never had one pop out because I clicked it in too carelessly or because the frame loosened. The fit has remained great through the four-month period to this day, which is now about five-and-a-half months. I really like the contour on the glasses that keep out peripheral light. I like just about everything about these glasses, as a matter of fact, including the fact that they are at suggested retail price of less than sixty dollars, I think a bargain.

RICHARD LYON: The only real drawback of this product for me is that you cannot get it with a polarized lens, and I like to do some fly fishing when I'm in the back-country and I need polarized glasses for that, the better to see the fly on the water; and that that really is the only suggestion I gave to the manufacturer, and I think that they do not smear quite as easily as most glasses. They're very good in not fogging up, although in humid conditions if they're- the first time I put them on in the morning and if I take them off at a rest break at a hike and put them back on, there may be some precipitation; but there are small holes at the top of the- of each set of lenses that, once I start walking, do a good job of evaporating the mist that has collected.

RICHARD LYON: I would recommend these glasses to just about anyone, with two reservations: they're not usable for fishing, as I mentioned, because none of the available colors comes with polarized lenses, and my only other adverse comment is that the bright blue frames that I got plus the blue reflective lenses makes me look a little bit like a space cadet when I wear them; and if someone is sensititve about that, might want to try another brand that has more subdued colors.

STEVE: My thanks to Richard Lyon, and the editors at Backpack Gear Test, for making this edition possible. Please remember that these opinions are those of the individual contributors, and don't necessarily reflect those of Backpack Gear Test, or of The WildeBeat.

STEVE: So now, more than ever, our programs depend on your participation. Here's Jerry Goller.

JERRY GOLLER: Most people think that finding testers is easy, and getting gear is hard. Actually it's the other way around. We have an extreme shortage of gear testers. I'm not going to kid and say it's easy because it's not. We have high standards and we expect people to meet them, but if people want to give back to the community, if they want to help improve the gear that we get and get some really nice gear while doing it, becoming a tester at Backpack Gear Test is the way to do it. On our group you will find that we have mentors, we have people that will work with you all the way through your two initial reviews; you'll find people that will help you and work with you every step of the way. We're definitely interested in your success as a tester because we can't succeed without you. Please come and join us in reviewing this gear.

STEVE: If you are a backpack gear tester, now it's your turn to contribute a report. And to the rest of you, we always want to hear any other comments, suggestions, or questions you have about our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find links to Richard's written review, and information on becoming a backpack gear tester, on our web site.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham and Kate Taylor, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one-fifty-eight. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- shelters.

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